Why are women using CBD products — and do they work?
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil and other products containing CBD are being touted as a natural, organic remedy for a wide range of women’s health concerns. Sellers of these products make many claims: CBD has calming effects on sleep, mood, and anxiety; eases hot flashes and improves bone density by balancing hormonal changes of menopause; and has anti-inflammatory properties that clear skin, cure acne, and calm rosacea. It’s promoted for PMS symptoms like bloating and mood swings. And CBD-infused lubricants claim to boost arousal and enjoyment of sex. So, how much of this is true?
First, what is CBD?
CBD is a major ingredient in cannabis plants (like hemp and marijuana). It comes in different strengths and forms, often as CBD oil, but also in pills and powders. It can be absorbed through the skin, ingested, or inhaled. (Vaping it, however, may not be safe, as this blog post and web page from the CDC explain.)
Unlike marijuana, pure CBD products don’t make you feel high. A different ingredient in marijuana called THC makes people feel high.
Does CBD have proven benefits?
So far, there’s not much evidence on the medical benefits of CBD, partly because laws on marijuana made it difficult to study. Until we learn more, it’s wise to keep in mind that few high-quality studies have been done.
- In 2018 the FDA approved a drug derived from CBD to treat rare forms of childhood epilepsy. This medication was shown in randomized clinical trials to reduce the frequency of seizures (see here and here).
- A few studies have found CBD may improve anxiety, but the studies were small and of poor quality (see here and here).
- Some laboratory research on human cells suggests CBD may have anti-inflammatory effects on oil-secreting glands in the skin. This might have implications for acne and other inflammatory skin disorders, but further research is needed to confirm this. And while CBD in skin products is unlikely to harm you, most dermatologists agree that there are more effective and better-studied medications and treatments for acne and inflammatory skin disorders.
Other potential benefits of CBD aren’t clear. No high-quality research shows that CBD improves sex drive, decreases pain, treats depression or mood disorders, decreases PMS symptoms like bloating and cramps, or relieves symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. This may change as more studies are done, but for now, the jury is out.
Are CBD products safe?
The short answer is this: pure CBD seems to be safe for most people. However, we don’t have rigorous studies and long-term data to prove whether or not a wide range of CBD products are safe for everyone. For example, there is no evidence to suggest that CBD is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or for people who are immunocompromised.
Because CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA in the way that drugs are, there is huge variation in quality and, quite possibly, safety. In 2017–2018, counterfeit CBD oil was found that contained synthetic cannabinoids and led to a poisoning outbreak in Utah.
Testing shows purity and dosage can be unreliable in many products. One study found less than a third of the products tested had the amount of CBD shown on the label. Another study of 84 CBD products bought online showed that more than a quarter of the products contained less CBD than stated. In addition, THC (the component that can make you feel high) was found in 18 products.
Does CBD cause side effects?
CBD can cause side effects like dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and drowsiness. Additionally, it can interact with certain medicines, such as blood thinners and antiseizure drugs. If you would like to start using CBD products, it’s best to first talk to your doctor.
There are a lot of extravagant product claims out there about the benefits of CBD for women, but little high-quality research supports them. CBD oil and other CBD products aren’t well regulated. It’s possible what you are buying is counterfeit or contaminated. Before using CBD — especially if you plan to vape or ingest it — first talk with your doctor or healthcare provider to learn whether it could be safe and helpful for you.
About the Authors
Rose McKeon Olson, MD , Contributor
Rose McKeon Olson, MD, is a resident physician in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She has special research interests in gender-based violence, social medicine, and global health equity. See Full Bio
Eve Rittenberg, MD , Contributor
Eve Rittenberg, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a primary care internist at the Fish Center for Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her interests include women’s health, trauma-informed care, … See Full Bio
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I am a 55 year old woman who has suffered with neuropathy since 2004 (amplified by a trauma in 2011); as well as a sciatic nerve issue and other complication since my trauma. One thing I found out (very quickly!), many of the drugs (natural or not) are either recomended for short term relief and used very long term, or the probable cause of added, often more sever, side effects. I don’t believe, for me personally, any medication that has the potential to do more harm than good, especially when it can only treat symptoms and not the cause, would be ideal, unless there is ‘no other option’ or perspective hope. Limited and controlled ecersizes along with diet, seem to have worked best for me personally; but, yes it is very difficult many days. However, I plan to watch my grandchild grow-up, and I plan to do that watching with as clear a mind as possible for today and tomorrow. Side-effects of CBD have been relatively unstudyed or unpublished for lack of verification. That is not promising. All of that being said, I am sure for some people CBD oil could be a God send of relief, most especially for some seizure and cancer patients.
Cannabis Sativa and Hemp are two different plants. Marijuana is not a plant, it’s a slang term used by rhetoric spewing racists seeking to profit from a new prohibition. How can you publish this when you clearly don’t know the basics?
As a woman with a cervical level spinal cord injury, who has experienced many benefits through the use of CBD … this article had absolutely no relevance to its title.
The One Thing That Finally Cured My Hot Flashes and Insomnia
Natalie Gillespie sighed in frustration as she felt beads of sweat trickle down the back of her neck. “Not again!” she huffed, blasting her car’s air conditioner and hoping she wouldn’t be drenched by the time she finished driving carpool.
Since starting menopause, the 52-year-old Florida mom had been experiencing hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and headaches. But she never imagined a new job and an unconventional treatment — CBD for hot flashes — would be the answer to her prayers.
When Natalie was first offered the position of editor-in-chief of a website called God’s Greenery, a free online resource for Christians to explore cannabidiol (CBD) — a chemical derived from cannabis claimed to have healing benefits — she was very hesitant to accept. As a devout Christian, she felt it would be going against her beliefs. She had a strong conviction against the recreational use of marijuana and wasn’t sure if CBD was the same thing. But after reflection and prayer, Natalie realized that many other Christians may have the same questions, and by taking the job, she could help clarify the facts.
Determined to learn everything she could about CBD, Natalie began scouring scientific studies and quickly discovered that CBD is legal and just one of many chemicals in the cannabis plant. In fact, THC, which causes a high, is a completely different substance. She also read that when used by itself, CBD actually helps disorders like anxiety, depression, heart disease, and pain.
But Natalie was even more surprised when she asked her Christian friends their thoughts — and some had already tried it. One friend, who’d suffered from severe psoriasis, had done everything her doctors suggested without relief. But after using CBD for three weeks, her skin completely cleared. Amazed, Natalie found herself thinking about her own menopausal symptoms. And after praying about it a bit more, she decided using CBD for hot flashes was worth a try.
Relief at Last
Last April, after buying a type of CBD oil, Natalie began putting a few droplets under her tongue before bed. She was shocked when after just two nights, her night sweats had stopped. Over the next week, her hot flashes eased, she felt less anxious and more energetic, and she experienced fewer headaches. Natalie continued using CBD nightly, and soon all of her menopausal symptoms vanished — and have stayed at bay! “At first, I dismissed CBD, but I am so grateful that I did the research and tried it,” she says. “It has changed my quality of life and made me feel like myself again!”
CBD for Hot Flashes: An MD Answers Your Questions
We asked Mary Clifton, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician, an expert on medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), and a consultant for cannabisMD.com, to address our biggest concerns about CBD. Her insights:
How does CBD work? “Derived from the cannabis plant, CBD stimulates the body’s endocannabinoid system,” explains Dr. Clifton. “This helps keep all the body systems — immune, respiratory, digestive, etc. — balanced and working together.”
What conditions does it help? “CBD helps reduce inflammation, which lowers pain and anxiety and improves sleep,” she says. “And new research indicates CBD may calm menopause symptoms, such as night sweats and hot flashes.”
Is it safe? Does it make you ‘high’? “It is very safe, and CBD won’t create a ‘high’ like THC. It’s FDA approved for treating epilepsy, and research continues to validate its use for multiple conditions. The caveat: CBD doesn’t work for 20% of those who try it.”
What do I look for? “Try a CBD tincture under the tongue. Results should happen within 10 minutes, so you’ll know if it’s working. Also, choose a product that’s had third-party testing, which should be clearly displayed on the label.” One to try: God’s Greenery Oil of Gladness, $89.